BEIRUT, LEBANON (6:45 A.M.) – The Syrian Arab Army and allied paramilitary groups have kicked-off an operation to expunge Al-Qaeda-linked forces from a large rebel bastion situated on the provincial border of Homs and Hama governorates.
On Monday, the Syrian Army and allied militias launched an operation against armed rebel groups holding-out in an enclave stretching across the countryside of northern Homs and southern Hama provinces – commonly called the Rastan pocket.
The offensive is aimed at both attacking the Al-Qaeda affiliate group Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) directly as well as pressuring other rebel groups (mostly linked to the Free Syrian Army) to demand the withdrawal of the jihadist militia from the pocket.
On Tuesday, rebel fighters and civilians in the small rural city of Ar-Rastan ejected Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham militants from the settlement at its surrounding countryside and threatened to kill them if they returned.
Overall, it was a positive step in a reconciliation process that Russian military authorities have been trying to implement in the Rastan area since 2017 – one that has always been impeded by constant raids and shelling of nearby government-held towns by Ha’yat Tahrir al-Sham (which naturally provokes the Syrian Army to respond).
However, forces of another hard-line jihadist militia known as Ahrar al-Sham (Syrian Muslim Brotherhood affiliate) are also present in the Rastan, how they react to the new push by both government and rebel authorities for a general reconciliation is yet to be seen.